The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
Guest Host: Susan Page
President Obama meets with Persian Gulf leaders at Camp David Thursday, pledging to help defend against potential external attacks. But Saudi Arabia’s King Salman skips the summit. The Taliban attacks a hotel in Kabul, killing 14 people including one American. In Yemen Houthi rebels agree to a five-day humanitarian ceasefire, but the Saudi-led coalition alleges multiple violations within the first 24 hours of the truce. The wreckage of a U.S. Marine helicopter is found in Nepal, after going missing while on an earthquake relief mission. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.
- Abderrahim Foukara Washington bureau chief, Al Jazeera Arabic.
- Karen DeYoung Senior national security correspondent, The Washington Post.
- Mark Landler White House correspondent, The New York Times.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. At a Camp David summit, President Obama meets with Persian Gulf leaders seeking reassurance about America's changing relationship with Iran. In Yemen, aide agencies rush to provide humanitarian relief during a limited ceasefire and rescuers find the wreckage of a U.S. Marine helicopter that crashed during a relief mission in earthquake-stricken Nepal.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for this week's top international stories on our Friday News Roundup, Abderrahim Foukara of Al-Jazeera, Karen DeYoung of "The Washington Post," and Mark Lander of the "New York Times." Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MARK LANDLERGood morning, Susan.
MS. KAREN DEYOUNGGood morning.
MR. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARAThank you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Mark Landler, President Obama is hosting delegations from leading Persian Gulf states at Camp David. This happened yesterday. But, you know, the big talk was not about who was attending. The big talk was about who chose not to attend.
LANDLERYeah, that's right, Susan. It was, at best, a mixed outcome for the president if he was looking for a big show of solidarity with the Gulf leaders. Several of the monarchs didn't come and sent either crown princes or deputies. And most notably King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who had earlier suggested he was coming, bailed out on Friday evening, which has been variously interpreted as a snub against the president or perhaps evidence that the king has poor health and is not really fit to travel. And there may be elements of both to this.
LANDLERBut the underlying theme, as you said earlier, is that these Gulf states are deeply, deeply troubled by the nuclear negotiation with Iran and they're not convinced, despite President Obama's efforts to reassurance them, that there isn't a more fundamental realignment going on in the region that will put them in a much more vulnerable position. So a lot of what happened over these two days in Camp David was President Obama trying to send a message to them that we have your back.
LANDLERWe're not abandoning you. We're not throwing our lot in with the Iranians. But the Gulf leaders were also not quite getting what they wanted. They wanted written assurances of security guarantees, things the U.S. would do to defend them against an aggressive Iran. They got verbal guarantees from the president, but nothing in writing.
PAGESo, Karen, did they get anything else from President Obama to try to get their support for this Iran deal?
DEYOUNGWell, they got what the president called an ironclad guarantee that the United States would have their back, that the United States would use all elements of its national power to protect them if they were threatened by an external threat and that's sort of code for Iran. They didn't get in the form of the treaty, as Mark said. They got a joint statement. But I think everyone had sort of given up on the idea of having a treaty. It's very, very complicated.
DEYOUNGIt would be very difficult to get through Congress. Of course, in exchange for that, the Gulf leaders, in a communique, said that they agreed that a properly negotiated deal, nuclear deal with Iran could improve security in the region. Around those two main things, U.S. security guarantee and Iran, them saying that the deal was okay, if in fact it comes out as advertised, there were lots of other extra things. There were a U.S. promise to speed up their military procurement policies, things take a long time to get there.
DEYOUNGThe Gulf Arabs buy a whole lot of U.S. equipment. It takes years sometimes to get there. They agreed that they would put together a joint missile defense system. Again, this is primarily directed at Iran. And they agreed to set up a structure where they would have another summit next year, they would all get together in working groups and cooperate more on counterterrorism and things that they basically have been discussing for a long time.
PAGEBut Abderrahim Foukara, that president is arguing that this Iran nuclear deal, if it comes out, will make the region more stable. Some of these leaders are arguing that if you lift the sanctions on Iran, it's just going to embolden Iran through the whole region.
FOUKARAI think there's perhaps just as much concern in the region about Iran's nuclear program as there is about what many people on the Arab side as Iranian interference in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, Iraq and perhaps even well beyond that. So the fact that, you know, they're offered military assurances, I'm not sure, you know, to what extent they are fully convinced that they can take that to the bank. But the fact that you have this accusation of meddling, again, I'm not sure to what extent the talks at Camp David fully, 100 percent, eliminated the concerns, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
FOUKARAAll the Arab countries of the Gulf are concerned about Iranian influence, but the real cold war is, obviously, as we know, between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
PAGEWell, Mark, do you think the White House scores this summit as a success or has it been something of a disappointment?
LANDLERWell, I think the White House would've preferred to see more of the monarchs show up so I think the fact that a couple of the high profile ones didn't, I mean, King Hamad of Bahrain chose to go to a horse show with Queen Elizabeth in England rather than come to Camp David, that can't be a very promising thing for the White House. I will say that the president was able to make his case and that was important at a critical and sensitive moment.
LANDLERAnd I think there's a general acknowledgement that the Persian Gulf leaders are not gonna be particularly happy or reassured. They don't have that many other options and this work of mending these ties and relationships is probably gonna end up falling to President Obama's successor. This is work that's going to take several years, presuming we are successful in getting a nuclear deal with Iran.
DEYOUNGI don't think that they're saying we're gonna desert you or we're gonna turn in another direction. I think they're saying, don't take us for granted. They're saying, you know, we're not -- we didn't send our top people, most of us. We're glad that you reassured us. We want to hear that over and over and over again. We want to set up a structure. We want you to be essentially boxed in a corner in agreeing that you will help us. They didn't -- as I said, they gave a commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, but it was kind of a lukewarm commitment.
DEYOUNGThey said, look, we still want to see it. We still want to see the details. They heard President Obama say we don’t think that this interference is gonna stop with this deal, but how much worse would it be if they were interfering and had a nuclear weapon. We're aware of the problems. We know -- we don't see these things as connected.
FOUKARAI think one would have to ask themselves the question about, you know, what is the alternative? What is the alternative for the American side? What is the alternative for the Arab side in the Gulf? This president, President Barack Obama, clearly, he has made a decision that he wants to give this his best shot and it looks like he is succeeding. Where does that leave the Gulf state? It leaves them unhappy. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, for example, if that's the real reason why he didn't show up.
FOUKARAHe didn't show up to Camp David. They're unhappy. Where else do they go? They can go to the French, but their alternatives in terms of security, you know, they're not really great. But also on the American side, we've heard this administration, right from day one, talk about the pivot to Asia. Well, now they're finding out that the pivot to Asia may be something -- a bit of -- to a certain extent, and I hope I'm not overstating the case, a bit of fantasy.
FOUKARAThe fact that they are not talking about bolstering the security of the Gulf to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and in the horizon, as Mark said, well beyond 2016, it just seems to me that the pivot to Asia is a duck that's not about to fly tomorrow.
LANDLERI know this is an international hour. I just wanted to point out that this debate will play out in very interesting ways domestically in the United States. And Hillary Clinton actually has, during the '08 campaign and early in her time as secretary of state, talked about extending a security umbrella over the region. That was very controversial when she said it back in 2008/2009, but I'd imagine, as you watch the candidates stake out their foreign policy positions, you'll see Hillary Clinton revive that kind of language and talk about embedding the nuclear deal in a sort of a broader security framework as a way of reassuring these allies.
DEYOUNGAnd one of the problems, certainly for Clinton and for the administration in general as they have tried to get these countries together, is that until very recently, the six Gulf countries had a lot of disagreements among themselves. The ballistic missile defense that they now say they've agreed to was proposed to them a number of years ago and just never gelled because they had different policies. They had different views about what -- who was the enemy in the region and what they wanted to do.
DEYOUNGThey came to this meeting say, look, we're not saying everything's settled, but it's better among us.
PAGEClearly, this Iran nuclear deal is one of President Obama's top priorities. They've got a deadline at the end of June to complete it. Do we have a sense that they're gonna get over that finish line, Mark?
LANDLERI've talked to a number of administration officials who are sounding more optimistic now than I've really ever heard them sound. They seem to think that enough hard work has been done that although some very tough issues in monitoring and compliance and things still remain that they do think they're gonna really be able to get through and get it done.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Russia. It's one of the first trips by a high-ranking American since the unrest in Ukraine. And we'll take your calls. Our phone lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the international hour of our Friday News Roundup. And with me in the studio, Karen DeYoung, senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post. Mark Landler, he's White House correspondent for The New York Times. And Abderrahim Foukara, he's the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic. Well, we have a question that was posted on "The Diane Rehm Show," website. It asked, "Could you ask your panel to comment on Seymour Hersh's assertions about the death of Osama bin Laden?" And, Abderrahim, first just tell us, what was the thrust of what Seymour Hersh wrote?
FOUKARAWell, the thrust is that basically the Pakistani security services did know that the Americans were undertaking the operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden, contrary to what the Obama administration had claimed, then continues to claim. The Obama administration continues to claim that the Pakistanis knew about it after the fact, not before or while it was actually happening.
PAGEWell, here's what the White House said, Josh Earnest, the press secretary, said the article was, quote, "riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods." But, you know, Mark, this struck me as one of those non-denial denials, where he's not saying everything wasn't true. He's saying there were things that were untrue, but it doesn't really address what might be the case.
LANDLERWell, that's exactly right. This was a 10,000 word article that had several different assertions it was making. And those people have investigated this carefully, written about it, written books about it, sort of look at the various assertions he's making in different orders. There was an assertion he made that the information about bin Laden's whereabouts came from a Pakistani walk-in. Someone who walked into the American embassy, an ISI official, who was willing to sell out the ISI in return for reward money. Oddly that particular assertion is getting some backup from other people. NBC has found people who say it's true.
LANDLERPeople who've covered this story extensively say it has the ring of truth. There are other assertions, for example, that the head of the ISI and the head of the Pakistani military were both briefed on the military raid. People find that one a little bit harder to accept. Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington wrote an article who's saying -- Haqqani, in which he basically said, look, if that were true, the Pakistanis would've asked for a much bigger quid pro quo in return for going along with this plan.
LANDLERAnd then lastly this whole issue of did we, in fact, take a lot of computer disk drives with a trove of information from the hideout in Abbottabad. He's arguing, Seymour Hersh, that we did not, and that that was also a fiction. A lot of people seem to be saying that doesn't sound right. So it's not that everything in the story is outlandish, nor is it that everything in the story sounds ironclad, it's a very murky tale, and he may be on to something with a few facets of it.
PAGEYou know, Karen, you've covered these issues for a long time. What do you make of this?
DEYOUNGWell, you have to remember what the story was according to the administration, which was this was a result of many, many years of diligent intelligence gathering; pulling threads, following leads, and basically avoiding the Pakistani government in order to confirm to the extent they could that Osama bin Laden was actually living in this house in Abbottabad, which is very near to Rawalpindi which is the military headquarters of Pakistan, and in a town where a lot of Pakistani officers live.
DEYOUNGI think that -- I think that it's always been hard to believe that nobody in Pakistan knew he was there. And so, again, there have always been parts of this story that just didn't ring true. But I think, as Mark said, the idea that the intelligence chief and the military chief in Pakistan knew about and approved this, I mean, I remember talking to very senior Pakistani military officers on the night this was announced, and they were -- boy, if they weren't totally flabbergasted, they were really good actors.
DEYOUNGSo I think that there are a lot of things we don't know. I agree that there's some things that ring true in Seymour Hersh's story, but on a sort of basis of journalism, it's very poorly sourced. It's sourced to basically one former intelligence official who is not identified, and a couple of other random people, retired military people in Pakistan. So I think that we don't -- there are many things we don't know about this, right? And maybe some of them, there are germs of some of them in this article.
PAGEWell, Abderrahim Hakim, I can understand why the administration might omit the fact that a Pakistani intelligence officer gave them a tip and to protect his identity, from a perhaps a legitimate reason. But some of the other accusations go to conspiracy theories that would really, I think, undermine Americans' trust in their government to tell them the truth. What do you think about that?
FOUKARAWell, I mean, I have to offset this, first of all, by saying that I haven't had the time yet to read the article that Sy Hersh has written.
PAGETakes a considerable amount of time.
FOUKARATakes a considerable amount of time. But just on the fact of it, I mean, it seems quite amazing that the Pakistani intelligence services -- look, this is a service -- these are services that have been basically on their toes for the last 50, 60 years of the history of Pakistan given the neighborhood, particularly, given there's no love lost between Pakistan and India. It sounds a little bit implausible that Osama bin Laden would be sitting right there near a military training facility in Pakistan, and the Pakistanis didn't know about it.
FOUKARABut having said that, this president, Obama, Barack Obama, said even during the campaign that if one day I find out that Osama bin Laden is living in Pakistan, would I bother to get the permission of the Pakistanis to do it? No, I would get in and do what I have to do. The problem for him is that if it does turn out to be -- Sy Hersh's version does turn out to be, then it becomes that, is this administration in cahoots with the Pakistanis to cover up Osama bin Laden who killed over 3,000 people in the U.S. on 9/11. That's a problem.
FOUKARAThe final thought is about Sy Hersh. You know, we've seen this with Sy Hersh, not just with this one. We've seen it over other issues. The targeting of the facility in Syria in 2007, 2008 in which it was claimed by the Israelis and the Americans that it was a nuclear facility, and Sy Hersh stepped into it. With anonymous sources, that poses a lot of problems for him. But the fact that there's somebody watching people in power, whether it's the Bush administration or the Obama administration, I think it's a good thing.
PAGESy Hersh also has won a Pulitzer Prize. There are investigations he's done that have turned out to be quite on target, and that at the time may have seemed outrageous. But in this case Karen mentioned that the sourcing was -- and it also didn't appear in The New Yorker where Sy Hersh's articles often appear. It appeared in the London Review. And I wonder what that reflects, Mark.
LANDLERWell, the important thing about not appearing in The New Yorker was that it didn't meet the standards that The New Yorker had set for publication. And The New Yorker is a publication that Sy Hersh has a long standing relationship with. He has a good working relationship with the editor, David Remnick. So the fact The New Yorker passed on the article I think is definitely significant.
LANDLERA colleague of mine made an interesting point about Sy Hersh's writing in general, which is to say that he has done some very important investigative work in the past that was based on confidential documents that he got a hold of. This is not one of those cases. This is a story, as Karen said, that was based on largely a single anonymous source. And that's a very, very different kind of -- it gives you sort of a different level of security about the information. So, you know, and I think that's another distinction worth pointing out about this story.
PAGEDocuments always preferable to people.
PAGESad news from Nepal, a U.S. Marine helicopter was found. They had been doing relief work. Karen, what is the latest?
DEYOUNGBoth governments, the Nepalese government and the U.S. government, announced early this morning that after almost three days of searching they had located the wreckage of the helicopter about 50 miles from Katmandu. There had been eight people aboard the helicopter. They found three bodies. And they are not sure what happened to the others. They're still searching the wreckage. I don't think anybody is very optimistic that anyone's left alive.
PAGEWhat were they doing there, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAWell, the country was obviously rocked by an earthquake a few weeks ago. I think I've lost track of what the total was.
PAGEThe death toll is now over 8,000, 8,460, in these two earthquakes.
DEYOUNGAnd there'd been a second earthquake, yes.
FOUKARAYeah, so obviously the extent of the damage both to human life, but also to the physical infrastructure has been quite extensive. And, you know, I think in these situations the administration in Washington, whether it's Democratic administration or Republican administration, as we saw in similar events in Indonesia, for example, humanitarian assistance is very, very, very important to these administrations, whether they're Democratic or Republican. Because humanitarian assistance, basically, it bolsters the position of the United States in those parts of the world, but it's also a lever of power in terms of international diplomacies. It's a price to pay the crash, but, you know, to them it's seen as being done for a good cause.
PAGEWell, here's a comment that was posted on "The Diane Rehm Show" website. This comment, "Obama is using the military as if it's the Peace Corp. There are agencies other than the U.S. military available and trained to deliver aid to earthquake and Ebola victims. The military exists to defend the United States, and, if necessary, fight and win wars." What do you think of that?
DEYOUNGI mean, I think that what was said previously is correct, that this is an important mission for the military. They train for it. Disaster relief is a big deal for them. You saw it with the tsunami. You saw it with the Pakistani earthquake. In fact, they do have some resources that NGOs and nongovernmental aid groups don't have. They have these massive helicopters that can deliver aid and go places where others can't go. They have equipment that others don't have. And they work very closely with the nongovernmental aid organizations. And I don't think that it's not at all peculiar to this administration. It's something that's been very much a part of the military mission.
FOUKARAJust quickly, I think the United States in terms of humanitarian assistance, it has elevated humanitarian assistance to a very high level of political art form. There's nothing, in my experience, that actually matches the level of art policy that the United States puts to the service of its policy in terms of humanitarian assistance. Anywhere else, whether it's Russia or China, anywhere else, it's quite unprecedented.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. In fact, let's go to Perry calling us from Brunswick, Md. Perry, thanks for holding on.
PERRYThank you so much, and what a great program, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the survivors -- with the families of the men and women who were killed in that helicopter crash. It's just a wonderful use of our Armed Forces. My call was actually related to the request of the Saudis and the other people in the region for assurances that we'll come to their defense in the event of an Iranian attack. And I think that if we have -- I favor doing that for them, but I favor us putting a chip on the table and saying, we'll do that, we'll sign a military pact, but you must end this anti-Semitism, you must recognize the state of Israel's right to exist.
PERRYNow, I know there are other problems with boundaries of the (word?) war, occupied territories, but that would take a substantial question off the table for the Israelis. They could no longer say, no one recognizes us, they all hate us, et cetera, et cetera. We've got to move forward on this. This issue is critical to the stability of the whole region. And it's just sat unattended for far too long.
PAGEAll right, Perry, thanks so much for your call. Mark?
LANDLERWell, I mean, Perry makes an interesting point. I mean, that's where the rubber would truly meet the road. It'd be fascinating to see how they responded to that. My hunch is that they would probably resist it. And interestingly, it's worth recalling that President Obama, one of this first visits in the region in 2009 was to Saudi Arabia to meet with the king of Saudi Arabia. And he got rebuffed when he tried to sort of layout a pathway toward changing the Arab and Persian relationship, Persian Gulf states relationship with Israel.
LANDLERSo it's tricky when you link the peace process to the security issues. I mean, it is also worth noting as a parallel point though that oddly the interests of the Israelis and the Gulf countries are quite aligned in this, in that they both view Iran as a mortal enemy. So you might think on the surface there might be scope for some kind of advance, but I guess as one who's covered the peace process off and on for years, I'm just skeptical.
FOUKARAThe Obama administration, especially in the wake of the events of 2011, the so-called Arab Spring. Obviously it experimented with that. It saw an opportunity, what it thought was an opportunity that systems around the region would open up, and you'd have people engaging in debate about all sorts of things, including Israel political representation and so on. More recently, obviously, we all know what the outcome so far has been, and every time he's mentioned the domestic situation of these countries, whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, these countries get very, very, very upset.
FOUKARAAnd now they have the ammunition to counter any pressure from the Obama administration when he pushes them on that. They say, look, look at Syria, look at Yemen, you actually supported that, and look where we are now. We have ISIS. All these things came out of at least partly your support for the so-called Arab Spring. Don't do it with us.
DEYOUNGI think the point that Mark made is an important one, that the Gulf countries and Israel increasingly have a coincidence of interest and have, in fact, privately been cooperating with each other to some extent, vis-à-vis their shared feeling that Iran is a theat. But I think it's also important to say that if you look at the communique that came out of the meeting yesterday, it makes a reference to the 2002 Arab peace plan. This was a proposal that the Saudi king at the time made saying that we will recognize Israel. We're prepared to send ambassadors there, but we want a viable two-state solution. We want the Palestinian issue resolved. We can all say that they're not sincere.
DEYOUNGWe can say that there are other things involved. But the fact remains that this still is an issue for them, and it's a major impediment. They're not doing what Iran does, which is coming out and saying Israel should fall off the end of the earth. They're basically just refusing to have any kind of relationship with Israel while this issue remains. It's not an issue as it used to be that they're kind of intermittently concerned about. They have much bigger fish to fry in terms of their own security at the moment. But I think it was important that there was a reference in this communique signed by Obama about this earlier peace plan.
PAGEPerry, thanks so much for your call. We're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll take your calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to drshow.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. For the international hour of our Friday News Roundup we're joined by Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. Karen DeYoung, national security correspondent for The Washington Post. And Mark Landler, White House correspondent for The New York Times.
PAGEWell, on Tuesday, the secretary of state, John Kerry, met with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia. And notable, Mark, because it's been awhile since senior U.S. officials traveled to meet with the Russian leader.
LANDLERYeah, it's the highest level meeting in a couple of years between American and Russian officials. And there were sort of three parts to it. They wanted to reopen a discussion on seeking a political end to the civil war in Syria. Remember, Russia's a key patron of the Assad regime -- bringing peace to Ukraine, a perennial and difficult issue. And then "keeping the lines of communication open between these two countries." I mean, clearly, the reset policy has fallen by the wayside. And we've entered this very tense and difficult period.
LANDLERAnd I think this was an effort just to kind of reopen lines of communication after a period of a great deal of tension. Not a lot came out of these meetings, either with Putin or the foreign minister, Lavrov. And some commentators have been fairly cynical about the whole exercise, saying that if you look at it from Putin's point of view, he has no incentive to seek an end to the war in Syria. And he has no incentive to seek an end to the hostilities in Ukraine, both of which work from him, either domestically, in the case of Ukraine, or geopolitically, in the case of Syria.
LANDLERAnd it's not clear if you listen to what Kerry said after the meetings, that he got much of anything out of this meeting. One observer that I read, I found kind of interesting, said that it might suggest, though, that Ukraine, which had been a huge problem and an obstacle between these two countries, maybe it has sort of had its moment of maximum attention and exposure.
LANDLERAnd the U.S., in a way, is saying, look, we disagree with you on Ukraine, but we need to work with you on Iran, on Syria, on many other issues. We've got to reopen those lines of communication. And if that's the case, then that's potentially good news for President Putin. He might not be under quite as much pressure on Ukraine as he was, say, six or eight months ago.
DEYOUNGI think that might be true, depending on what happens in Ukraine. There's been -- things have been in sort of a lull. There's not a true ceasefire, as everyone had agreed to, but there's not the kind of major conflict that had been going on. You haven't seen American officials come out as they were doing on a weekly basis last year, saying we've seen more Russian equipment. We've seen more Russian troops go across the border. And Putin come out and saying, no, that's not true.
DEYOUNGSo it will -- the issue will come back. At some point in the summer, the Europeans will have to decide whether they want to renew their sanctions against Putin. The American case has always been that this pressure, this economic pressure that we're putting on Russia, won't have an effect right away, but eventually it will have an effect. And so they're waiting to see what will happen. But I do agree with Mark that nobody in the sort of chaos of the world right now, without major fighting going on there, nobody seems to want to put that back on the front burner.
DEYOUNGAnd this meeting, I think -- I agree with largely a sort of yes, we can sit down and talk together. I think there are some things to talk about vis a vis Syria, where there are some indications that President Assad, who is a proxy for Russia, is not doing that well. And the Americans -- I would not be surprised if Kerry said, look, we need to have a managed exit out of this place, which has always been U.S. policy that the Russians have resisted, because he's not gonna hold on very much longer. And neither of us is gonna want to see what happens if there's an abrupt change in the situation there.
PAGEOne think you can say about John Kerry, as secretary of state, is he's gone everywhere. He's been willing to tackle things that everybody else says are completely hopeless and sometimes turn out not to work out. But not for lack of trying on his part.
FOUKARAI mean, if I may say this, Ukraine, for example, it seems to me that Ukraine, as Mark said, especially at this point in time, after the U.S. has tried over and over again. It seems to me that generally Ukraine is a bigger European concern than it is an American concern. The argument that, okay, Syria is also geographically far removed from the U.S. But Syria is important to the Obama administration in the sense that it affects the dynamics with Iran and it affects the dynamics with -- therefore with Russia.
FOUKARABut the timing, I think -- for me at least the timing of the visit to Russia is more important perhaps than the substance of the talks. I mean, given all these tensions that had appeared in the relationship between the United States and China, for example, over the South China Sea, it may be an appropriate time for Kerry to visit Moscow, which -- to visit Russia, Sochi, which he did, and at least keep those lines of communication open with the Russian -- as Karen said, this is a volatile world.
FOUKARAYou're never going to -- you never -- you don't know what you're going to meet around the corner. And it's good to keep communication open with the Chinese, but also with Putin in Russia.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Cassandra. She's calling us from Pittsburgh. Cassandra, hi.
CASSANDRAHi there. I just wanted to make a comment to what was previously stated I believe by an email about the Peace Corps in Nepal. The Peace Corps already had a site in Nepal before the earthquake. They had 18 people there. They were all safe after the earthquake. I know this because I have a child who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Africa. And they had received an email about the workers in Nepal and they all were safe.
CASSANDRAI do not -- I'm not minimizing the sacrifice that the gentleman in the Army made. I am a former Army wife. My husband was a major in the Army, served in the first Gulf War and was called back in the second Gulf War. And have a son who is currently in the Navy Reserve. And let me say with having a child in the Peace Corps, the sacrifice that the people make who go into the Peace Corps to represent our country and the State Department is just so overlooked by the people in our country.
CASSANDRAIt is unbelievable what they -- the conditions they live in, what they live through, the medical assistance they get, what they do in the Peace Corps to represent our country that is overlooked is actually -- it's unbelievable to me. My husband, being an Army officer was quite surprised what the kids in the Peace Corps do, even getting ready to leave for the Peace Corps, the sacrifice that they make, the money that is spent, the money the family spends, living on $39 a week.
PAGEYeah, Cassandra, we certainly hear you. That is amazing. We thank your family for all your service to our country in the Peace Corps, in the Army, in the Navy Reserves. That's great. Thank you so much for your service and thank you for your call. Let's talk for a moment about Yemen. Lots of turmoil there. A temporary ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to get through. Is this ceasefire holding, Abderrahim?
FOUKARAGenerally, it seems to be holding. But there are mutual accusations between the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, each side accuses the other of violating the ceasefire. And incidentally, we were talking about Saudi Arabia and why King Salman didn't turn up at Camp David. One of the reasons given was that he had to be close to Yemen because of the situation of the ceasefire. Generally, yes, the ceasefire is holding. The sides, all of them are preparing for basically political talks.
FOUKARABut, again, you have the Iranians stepping into the picture with that ship. The Iranians have said that they've sent humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen, but the Saudis and the Americans are not too happy that, you know, the ship would not go to Djibouti, as the U.S. wants it. It wants to go directly to Yemen to aid.
PAGESo clearly a humanitarian crisis, 300,000 people displaced, even in a small country like Yemen. Are there strategic implications for the United States, Mark?
LANDLERWell, yes, there are, absolutely. I mean, the reason for that is that Yemen is a haven for al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has tried to carry out terrorist attacks on the American homeland. So, in fact, we have had a covert program of drone strikes and missile strikes in Yemen for quite some time. And we have a very vigorous intelligence-sharing program with the Yemeni. So it is, in fact, a strategic concern to the United States, the future of that country. And why we're working very closely with the Saudis in handling this Houthi uprising.
LANDLEROne other point I wanted to make about Yemen, which is interesting, is 1,400 people have been killed in Yemen. And, as you say, hundreds of thousands displaced. And yet, there's very little coverage of this, much less than in many -- in fact, virtually all of the other Arab countries where there's been upheaval. Yemen's almost unique in having very little social media presence, in being very inaccessible, in being extremely dangerous.
LANDLERAnd at the moment there's a very minimal presence of foreign media in Yemen. And so there's this major upheaval and major hostilities in this country. And yet we're hearing and getting very few reports from inside the country. And I think that's extremely troubling.
PAGEYou know, if you want to talk about a country that's hard to cover, that would be North Korea. And we had this story this week out of North Korea that a general who was the equivalent of the defense minister -- so the equivalent of Ashton Carter. And the report was that Kim Jong Un had him executed with an anti-aircraft gun. What's happening there, Karen?
DEYOUNGThis is -- I mean, there are many peculiar stories that come out of North Korea. And they're very difficult to verify. This one was that this defense minister had fallen asleep in a meeting with the Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. And that as punishment the -- he was lined up with an audience of North Korean military officials and blasted away on on the ground with an anti-aircraft gun. This came at a time when Kim was supposed to make his foreign trip out of North Korea, was supposed to go to the Russia commemoration of the end of World War II.
DEYOUNGAnd he didn't go. And so those two things together set off a whole other round of he's nervous, he's trying to consolidate his power, he's weirder than ever. Subsequent to those reports, new reports came out of South Korea saying, well, no, he -- this guy actually was not executed by an anti-aircraft gun. And may not have been executed at all. He was simply purged. Again, I think we have very little way of confirming any of these stories on either side. What we know is that things are strange in North Korea.
PAGEI can guarantee you, if you're in a meeting with Kim Jong Un, you are going to stay awake.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take another caller. We'll go to Salisbury, Md., and talk to John. John, you're on the air.
JOHNOh, thank you, Susan. It's nice to talk to you and your panel. I was hoping someone could clear up a question I have about the Transpacific Trade Agreement. The one thing I was wondering was some of the other nations that's there's a big feel about it. Also, I -- correct me if I'm wrong. I may have dreamed this, but I'm quite sure I heard Elizabeth Warren say the other day that no one, including herself, has been allowed to read the agreement. Which I find flabbergasting, unless it actually hasn't been drafted yet. Could someone clear that up for me?
PAGEAll right, John. Thanks so much for your call. Who'd like to tackle it? Karen?
DEYOUNGThe -- Elizabeth Warren did say that. The administrations comeback is that, look, the -- this treaty is not completed yet. There are some parts of the agreement that have been tentatively made, that the -- they have been sent over to a room on Capitol Hill where any senator or congressman can go read them if they want. The administration is kind of in the middle of this. You've got a partner such a, such as Japan, who are saying we're not gonna sign any deal that we think might be amended by Congress.
DEYOUNGAnd so we want the president to have this fast-track authority. Which would mean that Congress -- once a deal is finalized, Congress can only say it agrees with it or it doesn't agree with it. It can't amend it. And so what Elizabeth Warren and others in Congress -- Democrats in Congress are saying is that, no, we want to see every piece of it. We want to see where it's going before we give you that fast-track authority. So it's a dilemma for the administration and I think that their only answer is that it's not finished yet. You can look at the pieces. We're not gonna reveal them publicly, but you're welcome to go read the negotiating documents and read the pieces of it.
PAGEIs this the same way this is customarily handled, Mark? Or is it either less or more transparent than usual?
LANDLERI think trade agreements often come together this way. And this issue of allowing everyone to dissect every detail is a recurring theme, which led to the whole notion of fast-track authority so you couldn't pick apart deals. To answer your listener's other question, though, the other countries have a range of issues. And they do have deep domestic, political issues. The Japanese worry about their agricultural market. That's been a huge problem for the Japanese prime minister in signing a deal. The Malaysians and the Vietnamese worry about the labor and the environmental portions of this deal.
LANDLERThe president is selling this deal by saying it's not just a traditional deal about tariffs and subsidies. It's a deal that will put in place a number of requirements and provisions for environmental and labor standards. Well, that's a bit problem for countries in Southeast Asia that don't currently meet those standards.
PAGEAbderrahim, there was a Taliban attack on a guest house in Afghanistan. An American was killed, some other foreigners killed. Most foreign troops have pulled out of Afghanistan, but the situation there seems to be getting -- it's troubling, for sure.
FOUKARAWell, certainly the president, Ashraf Ghani, he's facing many challenges. This adds or at least highlights some of those challenges that, you know, after the withdrawal of the foreign forces, not everything is hunky dory. And he's facing a bigger challenge, actually, than the ramifications of this particular incident. And that's the situation in Yemen because he has to dance, and aptly, between the Saudis and the Iranians. Saudi wield enormous influence in Afghanistan. The Iranians wield enormous influence in Afghanistan.
FOUKARAHe has 20 percent of his population which his Shia, so he has to be seen as doing well with the Iranians, but on the other hand, committing to help the Saudis in their war against the Houthis in Yemen. Basically puts him in a very, very tricky position. No end to his woes.
DEYOUNGI think that, just in terms of this particular attack, there are still American troops there. There are almost 10,000 American troops. And there are another several thousand NATO troops. And other contributors to the international coalition. The one place where you can be pretty sure that they are located is in Kabul. That's where the biggest concentrations are. And the Taliban has repeatedly, over the past couple of years, tried to prove that, in fact, even Kabul isn't safe.
PAGEHaven't they proved that with an attack like this?
DEYOUNGWell, they've attacked a number of places, major hotels, residences where foreigners stay and where foreigners theoretically are safe. And so this was yet another attempt to go in say you're not safe anywhere.
PAGEKaren DeYoung, of The Washington Post. And we've also been joined this hour by Abderrahim Foukara of Al Jazeera Arabic, and Mark Landler of The New York Times. Thank you so much for joining us.
LANDLERThank you, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
Veteran diplomat Richard Haass turns from foreign affairs to threats from within. He argues Americans focus so much on rights we forget our obligations as citizens -- and the country is suffering because of it.
Behind the lies of Congressman George Santos. Diane talks to the owner of the small weekly paper that first broke the story, and a Washington Post journalist who is following the money to see who financed Santos's political rise.
House GOP members launched a new committee this week to investigate the “weaponization” of the U.S. government. These lawmakers claim federal law enforcement and national security agencies have targeted and…